VISTA — The inaugural North County Veterans Stand Down rang with pride and patriotism Jan. 26 to Jan. 28. Flags of every military branch lined the dirt entry road to Green Oak Ranch where the event was held.
The three-day Stand Down provided a wide range of essential services to homeless veterans, and aimed to raise their morale and awaken their motivation.
Medical, dental, legal, counseling and other needed services were available.
Everything was geared to be convenient to those with limited resources.
Veterans in need of services stayed in heated cabins, which could collectively house up to 240 guests.
There was free van service to the event throughout the three days, from eight stops in Oceanside, and seven stops in Escondido.
The event was structured and relaxed. Once arrived, checked in, and assessed for needs, veterans could walk, or take a golf cart shuttle, to services located at different cabins within the sprawling retreat at their own pace.
One cabin held a clothing boutique where veterans selected from racks of gently worn shoes and clothes grouped by sizes.
Analea August and her daughter Leila, 8, served as volunteers to help veterans make selections, and hold open shopping bags for chosen items.
August serves as an active duty Navy personnel.
She said many veterans enjoyed shopping with her daughter Leila, who clearly has no judgment, and adds a child’s spunk and liveliness to the room.
Next door to the pop up boutique was an on site misdemeanor court.
Veterans who pre-registered for court services were warmly welcome, heard by a judge, and legally pardoned for outstanding traffic tickets and other minor offenses.
The on site court was staffed by volunteer professionals and followed all the procedures of a city courthouse. Extensive legal research was done on each veteran to ensure proceedings ran smoothly.
Terri Peters, County of San Diego public defender, volunteered as an attorney.
She said the court service really helps veterans who have given their all for our country. Without clearing misdemeanors veterans could be stopped from obtaining a DMV identification card, or being hired for employment.
Nineteen veterans went through court that morning. Navy veteran Tamye Edwards was one of them.
Edwards said she was not aware of her past ticket and is glad to have it cleared up.
“It was a good stop for me,” Edwards said.
Across the retreat grounds a cabin and two triage tents offered medical services. Veterans Affairs (VA) Emergency Medical Doctor Lynn Ji served as the clinic medical director.
A range of services were offered.
Withdrawal medication was given to veterans who identified themselves as chronic alcohol or substance users to help them through their sober three-day stay.
Blood, HIV, Hepatitis C, and pregnancy tests were given with immediate readings.
There were also doctors, nurses and podiatrists on hand to address abscesses, infections, needed stitches and other minor medical needs.
Veterans with pressing needs were immediately transported to a VA hospital for further care.
Those with conditions that were treatable on site, were seen and given follow up instructions.
All veterans were signed up for VA Healthcare services, guided on use of the healthcare system, and informed of walk-in services for veterans.
Mental health services were also available on site, with follow up information.
During the retreat pairs of veterans walked together, talked, and got perspective on their next steps. There was also a spiritual counseling center set up in a garden area.
Three hot meals were served daily.
At noon a chow line formed in an outdoor dining area for Saturday’s lunch. Flying Pig Pub and Kitchen owners Roddy and Aaron Browning volunteered to cook and help serve lunch for the 1,000 expected veterans and volunteers. Grilled veggies, mashed potatoes and pulled pork were heaped onto plates.
Veterans and volunteers, many who were also veterans, lunched together in rows of picnic tables.
One Air Force veteran volunteer said his service to his church and fellow veterans helps him get up in the morning and have purpose.
He keeps Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in check, and is a recovered alcoholic. He also continues to serve.